I came across a young Filipino-American teen in my practice who was interested in learning about her Filipino heritage and language. Whether you decide that learning your indigenous language is right for you or not, seeking to simply understand it is part of embracing your heritage, which ultimately means embracing YOU. I answered the inquiry on what makes the Filipino language unique by creating a bullet point, one -pager sheet for her. I thought I’ll share it on today’s post. So, what makes the Filipino language beautifully unique?

  • It does not use gender-based pronouns such as he or she. You can be talking for a few minutes about a friend and be asked by your mom, “wait a minute, is your friend a boy or girl?” This would be nearly impossible in the English language where gender assignment in our language is unavoidable. It’s also the reason why we LOL when our Uncles describe his wife as her wife. Pinoys and pronouns don’t mix well!
  • It has the ability to convey respect simply by inserting words like po, opo, ho, oho in our conversations. I can be overhearing a conversation without viewing the speakers and can almost always predict that someone might be older, or in a position of authority.
  • It has an affectionate tone to it. When your mother calls out your name and you say, “What?” It sounds a bit different than when you say, “Ano Po?” The meaning is similar, but the Filipino version is hard to convey in an angry or dismayed tone.
  • It allows space to convey that an incident was an accident by simply adding the prefix na. For example, in the English language if you fell; you simply say, “I fell.” You certainly can explain yourself further by saying, “it was an accident,” but without the explanation, it might appear that you cause it. In the Filipino language, it is easier to convey that something was not intentional. If I fell, I simply say, “Ay (exclamatory expression), nahulog ako.” It has the tone of, I wasn’t expecting it, but I fell.
  • It has a way to describe in-between emotions. You might not be angry or disappointed, but you have tampo which is the midpoint between the 2 emotions noted.
  • It can convey empathy without saying, I’m wrong, and you’re right. Apologizing for our mistake is a skill we all need to learn. But, I’m not referring to that last statement here. For example, if you realized your 12-year-old daughter seemed upset because you have ignored her the whole day taking care of business by being on your phone. You certainly are not sorry that you took care of business as you should but simply felt bad that your daughter feels ignored. So, instead of saying sorry (which is fine to use because the alternative does not have an English counterpart), you can use the phrase, “pasensya na.” Pasensya na conveys empathy and the understanding that the other person has the right to feel a certain way. It does not, however, change your position, say, that you should not be on a business call at all. It releases both parties on the argument, so, whose right? It really doesn’t matter whose right, the one who can mend the situation is in the position to make things right. Have you noticed native Filipino speakers, utter the word, “sorry” more than usual? You almost wanted to say, “it’s ok, you don’t have to be sorry.” Chances are they are interpreting the words, Pasensya na rather than what sounds like an apology in the English language.

This list can easily be an expounded to many more pages because there so much beauty in the Filipino language but for the sake of brevity, I will stop here.
Please know that even if you don’t speak the language, your heritage is in you and within you. The best way to represent is to understand this quote by Maya Angelou, “ I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.” Stand TRUE and you stand for the rest of us.

Sa Uulitin (‘til then),

Roanne

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